NT to lay optical fiber in 23 districts along Mid-Hill Highway: Rajbhandari
Kamini Rajbhandari is managing director of Nepal Telecom (NT), the state-owned telecommunication service provider of Nepal. Rajbhandari has been leading the NT for over a year as the first woman managing director of the company. She holds a Master's in Business Administration (MBA), Management of Technology from the Asian Institute of Technology and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical, Electronics and Communications engineering from Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, India. Rajbhandari has more than three decades’ experience serving in the NT itself.
The NT, which is a successor to the former Nepal Doorsanchar Sansthan, has a long history and experience in the country’s telecommunications sector. Although the NT still has a dominant presence in both voice and data services in the industry, the increasing competition with the private sector companies has posed serious threats to it in maintaining its leading role. The NT is currently facing the challenges of fulfilling its obligation to the government on the one hand and competing with the more efficient private sector companies on the other.
C K Khanal of The Rising Nepal spoke to Rajbhandari on various issues related to the NT and its future plans. Excerpts:
As managing director of the NT, what is the present status of the NT in Nepal’s telecommunications industry?
Nepal Telecom has continuously been a leading telecommunication service operator in Nepal. It has the highest market share in both voice and data service. The demand for NT’s voice and data services has been increasing rapidly in recent times. The company is also expanding its coverage area so that the density of data and voice service is on an increasing trend. Nepal Telecom is the only telecom operator providing service all over the country – in the urban, semi-urban and remote villages via various types of services.
The financial status of the company has also improved in recent years. Revenue generation of the company has increased significantly while the operating cost of the company has declined. To reduce the operation cost, we have implemented a vehicle management policy to reduce the transportation cost. In the past we used to pick up and drop several staff, but now only the 10th and 11th level senior employees are given the motors. But they have to drive themselves or hire the drivers. Similarly, we have adopted a policy of outsourcing semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Similarly, we are planning to rent out the unused space of NT’s fixed assets for the generation of extra revenue.
It has been more than a year since you started leading the NT. What have been your major achievements as its executive chief?
After my appointment as the chief, I have started many projects of long-term importance. We have started the process of inviting a strategic partner. We have also started 4G LTE service in GSM mobile services in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Recently, we have initiated the tender process for expanding 4G LTE services throughout the country. The GSM mobile expansion plan of 10 million units is almost complete. Besides, we are rapidly shifting the PSTN line into new technology so as to use it for extended services.
What are you doing at present for the betterment of the company and improvement in its service delivery?
The growth of any organisation depends not only on the role of its leader, but also on all the staff. Despite being a woman, I have been giving maximum time to the institution. My expectation is that the other higher and lower level staff should also give sufficient time to get the work done. I have realised some lapses in this regard on the side of the employees. I have made a plan to improve the work culture of the organisation. To improve the work culture and make the emlpoyees more accountable to their responsibility, I have signed a performance contract with the staff. In the first stage, I have signed a performance contract with eight deputy managing directors and a similar performance contract will be signed with the lower level staff.
Besides, a few employees are suspected of acting against the wellbeing of the company by leaking important information from the company and thereby creating hurdles in decision making. In order to control such unethical and unprofessional activities, I am planning to establish an internal intelligence unit. If any staff is found acting against the wellbeing of the company, stern action will be taken against him or her.
The customers often complain about NT’s service quality. What are you doing about it?
First of all, I do not accept that the quality of NT’s services is poor. Actually, the quality of our services is reasonably good. A recent survey conducted by Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) has showed that the coverage and quality of NT is better than other private companies. We are trying our best to enhance the quality of our services even more. We are using the latest technologies in line with the rapid technological advancement in the sector to serve our customers better. In that process, we are continuously optimising the use of our core equipment and preventive maintenance of equipment to ensure quality services.
Besides, to enhance the quality of GSM mobile services, we are increasing the number of BTS towers in Kathmandu and major cities across the country under the 10 million GSM line expansion project. Of the 10 million lines, 4.8 million are planned for the Kathmandu Valley and Bhairahawa, and the remaining 5.2 million lines are to be expanded to the rest part of the country. We have completed the works of the 4.8 million-line project and 80 per cent of the 5.2-line million project. Completion of these projects will address the need of additional BTS towers for quality mobile service.
The customers also complain about NT’s poor customer care service.
Nepal Telecom recently restructured its customer care centre (CCC) with new technology and new management in Kathmandu. The new technology used in the CCC will enable it to handle things more efficiently. To further improve customer care service, we are adopting a policy of reward and punishment.
The NT was a pioneer in launching the 4G LTE service in Nepal. But it has failed to expand the service outside Kathmandu and Pokhara. What caused the delay?
Currently, we are providing fast data service under 4G LTE technologies in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara. We have recently called a tender for the purchase of core equipment and network equipment required for the expansion of 4G service across the country. I don’t agree that we have made any delay in the process of expanding the 4G LTE service. If we review the work that we did before calling the tender notice, it is not late. Calling a tender notice indicates that half of the work has already been completed. The process that a private company and the NT take is completely different. The expansion process of NT’s service should not be compared with the expansion by a private company.
The company has forwarded a process to invite a strategic partner. What progress has been made in this regard?
The process of inviting a strategic partner in the NT started about three years ago. Unfortunately, it was halted later. After my appointment as the chief of the NT, we have forwarded the process by appointing a consultant to make a due diligence report based on the physical, technical and financial status of the NT to invite the strategic partner. As I know, appointing the consulting company has reached the final stage. After the report of the consultant, the process of selecting the strategic partner will begin.
The NT has signed an MoU with the NTA to lay down optical fibers along a certain portion of the Mid-Hill Highway. What progress has been seen in this project?
In the first stage, or preparatory phase, we conducted a site survey by spending around four months. We then called a tender for micro-wave equipment, which is now in the evaluation phase. Similarly, we are currently holding discussion in the NT Board of Directors regarding the tender process for laying optical fiber along the Mid-Hill Highway in Provinces 1, 2 and 3. We will soon call a tender to lay the optical fiber. We will complete the project within two years of honouring the tender. As per the agreement with the NTA, the company will lay down optical fiber in 23 districts along the Mid-Hill Highway and adjoining district headquarters and municipalities. After the completion of this project, we will provide better telecom services to the people living in these areas.